Misdeclared container weights have a serious impact on the stability of vessels, trucks and terminal equipment. This can pose a threat to the safety of workers in the industry and even endanger lives. Misdeclaration appears to be widespread: when containers were weighed after incidents, the total often came out different than on the cargo manifest. The long struggle with this problem has now resulted in amendments to the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) Convention (Chapter VI, Regulation 2, to be precise) to ensure that all container weights are declared accurately.
The principle of the new SOLAS regulation is simple: as of 1 July 2016, it has become mandatory for all containers to be weighed before they are loaded on board. The weight of a container can be determined using one of two methods. A container can be weighed after it has been packed, or alternatively all the contents of the container can be weighed and the weights can be added to the container’s tare weight. Estimating the weight, in whatever way, will not be permissible.
Most parties that are active in the containerized supply chain have been impacted in some way by this new regulation. Vessel operators and terminal operators are required to use verified container weights in stowage plans. In order for them to receive the information in a timely manner, shippers have to share the verified weight with the booking agent and/or forwarder. This obviously require new agreements about procedures, as well as modifications to existing IT systems.
The shipper (or a third party under the shipper’s responsibility) is required to weigh the packed container or all of its contents, depending on the selected method. The weighing equipment that is used must meet national certification and calibration requirements. The SOLAS amendments demand that the weight verification must be ‘signed’: a specific person must be named and identified as having verified the accuracy of the weight calculation on behalf of the shipper. A carrier may rely on this signed weight verification as being accurate.
The verified gross weight of a container must be declared in a signed shipping document. This can be part of the instructions to the shipping company or a separate document, like a declaration including a weight certificate. In either case, the document should clearly state that the gross weight provided is the ‘verified gross mass’. Carriers have to provide shippers with cut-off times within which the carrier must receive the required container weight verification from the shipper for ship stowage planning. These cut-off times may vary by carrier, may vary depending on the operational procedures or requirements of different terminal operators, and may vary from port to port. Containers without a verified gross mass will not be loaded on board.